Opposition Senator Chiz Escudero on Friday said he had asked the Visiting Forces Commission to look into reports of the adverse impacts of this year’s Balikatan Exercises in Bicol provinces on the livelihood of locals, particularly that of fisherfolks.
In a letter to Edilberto Adan, executive director of the VFA Commission, Escudero said fisherfolk organizations based in Bicol called his attention to a fish ban being implemented in areas covered by the military humanitarian mission in the region.
The senator said the concern was aired by the National Federation of Small Fisherfolk Organizations in the Philippines (Pamalakaya) to him in a letter last month.
He also said there with the advance deployment of Philippine and US troops in the area, “fear and confusion among residents have likewise ensued.
“It appears that the planned Balikatan exercises in Bicol, given their scope of operation, have seriously affected the livelihood of fishermen and farmers because of the imposition of a fish ban,” Escudero said in his letter.
“This is a matter too serious to be ignored since it involves the rights of our fellow Filipinos, constitutionally enshrined and mandated. Their right to livelihood and freedom of movement can and should never be curtailed, especially if this even means an accommodation of a foreign interest.”
Also, Escudero called on the government to tread on the side of caution and ensure that no untoward incident happens during the conduct of the RP-US Balikatan military exercises being held this month in the Bicol provinces.
“I appreciate the humanitarian help being extended to local communities where the Balikatan exercises have been held in previous years,” said the opposition senator.
“But we all know that unfortunate incidents have also happened,” said Escudero, who has supported a Senate resolution calling for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) because of its one-sided provisions on criminal jurisdiction.
The senator also said that the government should make sure that American troops involved in the wargames will not be drawn into any armed engagements with communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels who are operating in the area.
Last April 1, communist guerrillas killed three soldiers and wounded two others in an ambush in Ragay, Camarines Sur. A military spokesman said that the soldiers, who were in civilian clothes and unarmed, were conducting humanitarian projects in the province.
“This is a matter which should only be addressed by us Filipinos,” Escudero said. “Foreign interference will only exacerbate this conflict.”
The first batch of 345 US soldiers from Okinawa arrived on Wednesday in Tabaco City for the month-long joint exercises to be held in Sorsogon, Albay, and Masbate. They are scheduled to build school buildings, rehabilitate roads and waterworks projects, according to officials.
“While I and my fellow Bicolanos appreciate any help that will come, given the meager resources of our government, these foreign entities should keep out of our internal businesses” the senator said.
CHIZ: COURT DECISION ON SISON GIVES PEACE A CHANCE
Sen Chiz Escudero asked the government yesterday to speak with the United States government and the European Union if both can temporarily remove the terrorist tag on Jose. Ma. Sison and the Communist Party of the Philippines so that peace talks can resume with the leftist rebels.
“By throwing a ‘monkey wrench’ to the process, the government is seemingly maintaining a hard-line stance and prolonging the impasse,” the opposition senator said.
Escudero said leftist rebels could be convinced to return to the negotiating table after a Dutch court dropped murder charges against exiled CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison.
The case involved Sison as allegedly behind the killing of former New People’s Army (NPA) comrades Romulo Kintanar and Antonio Tabora.
“The National Democratic Front (NDF) previously sought a halt to the ‘persecution’ of Mr. Sison,” he recalled.
The NDF is the umbrella group of left-leaning organizations in the Philippines, while the NPA is its armed wing.
Talks between the two sides have been suspended since 2003.
Meanwhile, the opposition senator called on the authorities to resolve quickly the case of Edelina Jolloso-Jerus, the widow of a slain activist who was shot dead this week in Sorsogon.
“This crime may inflame passions in the Bicol region, especially now that the Philippine-US Balikatan exercises have just gotten underway,” Escudero said.
“Let us give peace a chance and offer hope to the people that the longest-running communist insurgency in Asia that has sapped resources and affected so many lives can be resolved peacefully.”
CHIZ CALLS FOR TRANSPARENCY IN EXECUTIVE CLEMENCY GRANTS
Opposition Senator Chiz Escudero on Friday called for more transparency in the series of processes that leads to a grant of executive clemency or presidential pardon to convicted criminals.
Escudero said that while the power to grant clemencies and pardons resides absolutely with the Office of the President, it should be an exercise in transparency in order to prevent any speculations of impropriety.
“While the power to pardon and commute sentences is absolute, it should be exercised with utmost transparency in order to afford all interested parties the opportunity to be heard and their position and opinion be considered before the President decides,” he said.
The senator issued the statement in response to the reported grant of executive clemency to Rodolfo Manalili, the mastermind of the “Cochise-Beebom” double murder, by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Manalili, along with four others, had been sentenced to a double life term for the abduction and killing of Ernesto “Cochise” Bernabe II and his girlfriend Ana Lourdes “Beebom” Castaños in 1990.
Escudero said that the Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP), which recommends clemency for prisoners, should make public its actions on applications made by qualified convicts.
“The BPP is the one that’s tasked to come up with recommendations on who is qualified or not to receive the presidential reprieve. It should inform all interested parties, particularly the families of the victims, whenever someone is being evaluated for possible clemency or pardon,” he said.
He added that the families of the victims can file an opposition to any application before the BPP or even in courts, if warranted.
“Informing the families of victims must be given an opportunity to oppose or build a case against the application for clemency, if they so choose. What happens now is we are being surprised by the grant of clemencies left and right,” Escudero said.
The senator explained that while the President has the sole prerogative to grant clemencies, she can also choose not to approve any application.
“It is not ministerial on her part, as what Anthony Golez is saying. It is still discretionary. That is why it is important that she hears all the sides before she makes a decision. The grant now becomes an informed judgment,” he said.
“This is one government process where transparency is of utmost importance. The grant of clemency to a prisoner evokes strong emotions, especially from the families of the victims. We should not take this lightly, as this administration does.”
ON THE APPOINTMENT OF BERSAMIN TO SC
“I am glad to hear the appointment of CA Justice Lucas Bersamin to the Supreme Court.”
“I wish him well and hope that he will continue to fight injustice and uphold the rule of law.”
“The Supreme Court is an institution that plays a vital role in a democratic society like the Philippines, and I am sure that Justice Bersamin will continue to uphold its independence and integrity.
SHORTLIST OF LAKAS
“As the ruling party, LAKAS should instead focus on finding solutions to the country’s problems instead of simply concentrating on politics and their candidates for next year’s election.”
“Besides, they should first tell their members to stop the cha-cha train so that people won’t perceive this as a mere smoke screen for other intentions.”
“The last thing we need is more politicking in a time of crisis and uncertainty.”